Kelly Baugh, CEO. courtesy photo
~by Paige Langenderfer
Kelly Baugh grew up stocking her closet with socks from her family’s business. She didn’t have much time for play because there was always work to be done.
Kelly’s mom, Sharon Riverbark, started For Bare Feet in 1984. Sharon was a single mother of five children and a schoolteacher. She started the business as a project for her son, Tim, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. The shop would help Tim use his motor skills and give him an occupation.
For Bare Feet in Nashville's Antique Alley is where it all started.
The business started humbly, making socks with a 19th-century sock-knitting machine and selling them in a rented space in Nashville’s Antique Alley.
Today, For Bare Feet (now known as FBF Originals, LLC) is a leading manufacturer, distributor and retailer of licensed and novelty socks and similar products, selling globally in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. FBF Originals sells millions of socks every year and is the longest-tenured sock licensee of the National Football League, is licensed by hundreds of colleges, the National Hockey League, NASCAR, and Fortune 500 companies like Hershey, Wrangler, and Mossy Oak. From 1997 to 2016, FBF Originals produced the official on-court sock of the National Basketball Association.
Kelly has advanced from stocking socks in her closet to being named FBF Originals president and CEO in 2018. She is proud of her family’s hard work, and credits those years as a young laborer as steppingstones to where she is today.
For Bare Feet, Too's window on Nashville's Main Street.
“My mom was the driving force for the start of the business. She was determined to provide a business for my brother,” Kelly said. “She worked during the week at her full-time job as a teacher, then after school and on weekends at the retail store in Nashville.”
The entire family worked long hours to keep the business going.
“I personally worked after school and on weekends to stock merchandise and help customers. We worked many weekends until 1 or 2 a.m., and then we were back in the store by 7 the next morning. It wasn’t something you thought about, you just did it,” she said. “My brother, Tim, Mom and I spent a lot of hours together and you just do what needs to be done. The very first year we used our home as a warehouse. There were socks on shelves in our bedrooms, in closets, the bathroom, kitchen, living room. Every possible square inch was utilized. It wasn’t a hardship, it was simply a way of life. We worked together, had fun together, and laughed together.”
Kelly said she only worked one summer at another job.
“But extra help was always needed within the new startup family business. It always drew me back in—that feeling you’ve really helped make a difference.”
Life was never what some might call “normal” for Kelly.
“I went to Indiana University. College for me was probably not the norm: 90-hour work weeks, serving as For Bare Feet’s national sales manager, licensing manager, and calling on top retailers as well as attending trade shows,” she said. “I learned more from experience and working with established professionals like Sue Pippin–Bon Marche Buyer (Now Macy’s), Marcie Tichenor–TIS Bookstore, Frieda University of Notre Dame Licensing Director versus what I learned while in college.”
She also learned a great deal from her mom.
“I learned to never give up, never run out of cash, and love what you do.”
Many things she learned while working.
“Listening is a huge skill, a skill not to be overrated. So is asking questions and not being afraid to admit you don’t know something. That was key in my professional development. I asked every stupid question and got really great answers from respected and knowledgeable professionals. Their insights gave me a knowledge base from which to draw, develop, and grow. I find that if you just ask and really listen, that many people are willing to help and support. You just have to be sincere and willing to do the work,” Kelly said. “Work ethic is everything. No job is beneath you or too big. If the trash is full, empty it. If you see someone needs help, ask what you can do. Dig in and get it done!”
Kelly said becoming CEO was not something she was working toward.
“I honestly never intended or thought I would be CEO. It is a huge responsibility where people depend on you and my job is to answer to them,” she said. “If they are going to trust me to lead the company, then it is my duty to answer every question, work harder, and set an example. I work for our team.”
And that team is something she is most proud of when she thinks about the company’s accomplishments.
“Working with our fantastic team of professionals is extremely rewarding. Collaborating to develop new ideas, programs, products, and working together to build and grow our customers’ business is, by far, the most rewarding aspect of this job,” Kelly said. “I am most proud of the people I get to work with every day. They are truly amazing, intelligent, gifted, nice, and good people.”
For Bare Feet Originals, LLC. is now based in Martinsville. It relocated from the Brown County village of Helmsburg after a fire in 2011.
There are two retail stores in Nashville: For Bare feet in Antique Alley at 75 South Jefferson Street (812) 988-2067, and For Bare Feet Too at 40 West Main Street (812) 988-7144 across from PNC Bank. The Nashville stores offer a wide selection of socks and gifts with a variety of themes. You can find gifts for animal lovers, sports fans, outdoor enthusiasts, and children. There are also many colorful novelty socks and gifts.
For Bare Feet retail outlets expanded into other national tourist locations including: Eureka Springs, Arkansas; Estes Park, Colorado; Steamboat Springs, Colorado; Galena, Illinois; Frankenmuth, Michigan; Charleston, South Carolina; and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
You can visit their website at <forbarefeetshops.com>.